It seems to me that as a newspaper columnist I ought to comment on the momentous issues of our day: the Boston Marathon bombers, or gay marriage, or Barack Obama's presidency, or the outsized power (or fall from grace, depending on whose version you believe) of the Religious Right.
No one, such as the editors of this paper, has actually told me to do that.
It just seems that's what opinion columnists are supposed to do.
I keep trying. Every couple of weeks, when it's time to write a new piece, I promise myself I'll say weighty words about a weighty subject.
Then I end up writing about my grandchildren.
Gee. I used to hold strong views about almost everything. I enjoyed expressing those views. Few things pleased me as much as whacking a hornets' nest with a ball bat and watching a swarm of furious hornets come pouring out.
Here's the problem now.
The longer I live, the fewer opinions I hold. I simply don't give a big do-re-mi about very many things. And I feel less compelled to share the views I do have. I can't imagine that the public is waiting on tenterhooks for me to make up its collective mind. Plus I'm tired of dodging hornets.
Maybe I'm getting senile. Or maybe I'm growing up. I don't know which it is. But I rarely get too wrought up about the daily headlines anymore. It feels like I've read them all before. About 50 years' worth.
What I really do care about is my grandkids. My church. My wife.
I care about navigating the rest of my days in an intentional, spiritually integrated and dignified manner. I care about helping those I love to do the same, if I can and if they want my help. I care about trying to glean tiny bits of insight from a cosmos that often appears chaotic and senseless.
I hope this shift in priorities means I'm getting wiser, not lazier or more cynical.
Supposedly, the smartest guy who ever lived was King Solomon.
Instead of toiling away at massive philosophical treatises on, say, the origins of evil — or even writing the ancient equivalent of newspaper columns on politics and culture — he mainly composed and collected pithy little observations about how to manage your money or get along with your neighbors or enjoy courting.
He said writing and reading a bunch of heavy stuff was wearying to the flesh.
Amen, Sol. I feel your pain.
I don't think I'm as wise as Solomon, but my latest project is similar to Proverbs. I'm pulling together my own bromides, the insights I want to pass on someday to my grandchildren. (Have I mentioned my grandkids yet?)
So far, I've got about 80 or 90 of them.
They're things such as:
■ Be kind to yourself.
■ Believe in doubt; it's a big part of any faith worth having.
■ Tell the truth to God, others and especially to yourself.
■ Be nice to everybody, because nobody likes a jerk.
■ The gospel is simple, but it isn't easy.
■ Remember that the world doesn't revolve around you.
■ True religion is about relationships, not about rules.
■ Faithfulness is everything.
■ Self-fulfillment is overrated; you find yourself by losing yourself.
■ Be content with where you are and what you have.
■ You're screwed up, but God loves you anyway.
Being the gasbag I am — both a preacher and journalist, after all — I can't help elaborating on each of these points as I record them. I add a few paragraphs, or tell a story or two, that explain what I mean.
These topics are more important to me now than parsing the president's virtues and faults. With all due respect, presidents come and go. Social issues flare up and fade out. Television evangelists make fools of themselves, then get fired and replaced by other evangelists who make fools of themselves.
As long as I live, though, and as long as my grandchildren live, and as long as their children live, we'll need to be reminded not to be too hard on ourselves, and to tell the truth as best we know it, and that God loves us, warts and all.
To me, increasingly, that's the news that matters — the kind that is, as Ezra Pound said of literature, "news that stays news."